Fresh, hot bread is one of the greatest treats possible. Crusty bread is wonderful with just a bit of fat, such as butter or olive oil, and the slight saltiness of fresh bread pair beautifully with herbs and even better with a sweet jam or syrup. Making homemade bread is an art form that is coming back. If you’re still learning, the tips below can help.
Handmade Bread: The Labor Part
Bread works because kneading yeast feeds off the sugar in the mix and releases carbon dioxide. When you knead bread dough, you create bonds of gluten that captures that carbon dioxide; the bread dough rises. If your bread doesn’t rise, it can be because
- the yeast is old and dead
- your liquid was too hot
- there wasn’t enough sugar to feed the yeast
The trick to effectively kneading your bread is to have enough time, a workable surface and plenty of extra flour. A wooden bread board can give you enough space. Flour the surface of the board, then slowly flip your bread bowl to put the dough into that floury field. Flour your hands and keep the flour accessible; you do not want to be trying to reopen your flour container when your hands are full of dough.
Don’t worry about timing. Pay attention to the feel and scent of your dough. Once you’ve shaped the dough into a ball, push it down and away with the heels of your hands. Fold the flattened dough back into a ball, turn it 1/4, and push it again.
The kneading process will work more flour into the dough and build those gluten connections. When the dough is smooth to the touch, work it into a ball one more time and press your finger into the dough, just a 1/2 inch or so. If it springs back, you’re ready for the last rising and baking.
There are some bakers who swear by a second kneading and rising. The more times you knead the bread, the higher a rising you will get. If it sits too long or in too small a pan, you may get a big open bubble at the top of your loaf. Keep an eye on it after you knead it to avoid a giant bread mushroom.
Bread Machine Benefits
Bread machines offer a lot of benefits. For example, it kneads your bread. It has a timer. You can wake up to fresh, hot bread. The number of recipes and mixes available for bread, from quick breads to yeast breads, are growing.
However, bread machines can be quite fiddly. They draw a lot of power and can take a lot of room on your countertop. While the tubs are non-stick, you will end up baking the paddle into your loaf and getting that thing out of a hot loaf can be challenging.
(I don’t know what happens if you leave the paddle in the loaf until it cools completely. Hot bread is too much of a temptation. I do know that it’s possible to cut around the paddle if you’re really determined. Work slowly.)
Bread machine mixes and special flour can also add to the cost of your homemade bread. However, you can still use regular flour and yeast and get good results. While cooking in a pan on the stove allows for some experimentation, baking is chemistry. Follow a basic recipe to start.
Pairing the Two
Bread machines are pretty good at baking but they are excellent at mixing your dough. If you don’t have a stand mixer and don’t really have the time or the inclination to mix bread by hand, your bread machine can do a great job of blending up yeast, flour and fluid.
Even better, many bread machine tubs are non-stick. Do be prepared for stickiness whne you pull the dough out of your bread maker; the dough will release from the side of the baking pan but it will probably stick to your hands. You will need to pull out the dough blender paddle, but at least you won’t have to cut it out of a fresh loaf while it’s hot and difficult to manage.
A Word About No-Knead Bread
No knead bread also includes those gluten bonds, but they develop because the bread is allowed to ferment slowly over time. There are some no-knead bread recipes that call for bread to go in the refrigerator, which can suck up unwanted flavors. Other no-knead recipes require at least 6 hours at room temperature or a bit warmer. No matter what, cover your bread dough lightly so it can rise without exposure to dust, dirt or curious family members.
Of course, the bread machine has a separate pan. If you need to slice bread for sandwiches, it makes sense to bake it in a bread pan. Many experts in fermented breads, such as no-knead bread, recommend that you bake it in a Dutch oven. If you love a crusty, crunchy round loaf, back it in a Dutch oven with a lid.
Glass pans take longer to warm up; make sure the sides and bottom are as “done” as the top. Tin pans heat up quickly and offer little protection. Don’t wait for the top to brown as the sides and bottom may burn. A cast iron Dutch oven will hold heat when it’s out of the oven. Be ready to move that round loaf out quickly!